78th Volta a Portugal
Sunday saw the end of the country’s premier race, the 11-stage Volta a Portugal. Once again W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal – or ‘Team Sky of Portugal’ as some have christened them – won, though winner of the past two editions Gustavo Cesar Veloso missed out to his own teammate, Portuguese all-rounder Rui Vinhas.
Vinhas took the leader’s jersey as part of a breakaway that gained 3:51 on the peloton on the hilly stage three to Macedo de Cavaleiros. For the rest of the race he confounded expectations, riding stronger than many expected to keep the lead over the famed mountains Senhora da Graça and Alto da Torre, leaving himself an advantage of 2:25 on Veloso going into the final time trial stage in Lisbon.
Even with this gap it didn’t seem likely that he could keep the lead over the 32km course – last year he shipped 4:05 to Veloso over a similar distance. Hang on he did though, riding the time trial of his life to limit his losses to just 54 seconds as Veloso won his third stage of the race. W52 took four of the top five spots on the day, finishing one-two-four on the final GC.
It’s by far the biggest victory of Vinhas’ career, and only the second Portuguese victory in the last 13 years. His win also marks a break from Galician victories – Spaniards from the region which lies just to the north of Portugal (namely Veloso, David Blanco and Alejandro Marque) have won the past four editions.
After the race there was a hint of polêmica as Veloso gave a television interview right in front of his teammate, claiming that “I’ve shown that I was the strongest in the mountains and time trials. I did the job I had to do and next year I hope to win.” Later in the day he took to Facebook to walk back his comments somewhat, congratulating his teammate on the win.
Australian team Drapac rode the race for the first (and last) time. Will Clarke took a stage win for the men in red, outsprinting Androni Giocattoli’s Marco Frapporti from the same breakaway that gave Vinhas the race lead. Look out for a feature on how the team’s race went somewhere in the near future.
The demise of LA Aluminios-Antarte
Long-running team LA Aluminios-Antarte will stop at the end of the season, according to team boss Mário Rocha. The team, which is based on Paredes Cycling Club near Porto, has been running under various sponsorships since 1995.
“The truth is that the manager of LA-Antarte fears cycling is heading for new scandals like in 2008 and 2009,” read a statement from the team. “People involved in the scandals back then have returned to cycling in recent years, and this has happened due to the lack of strength from the FPC (Portuguese Cycling Federation), which seems committed to drag the sport back to the past.”
It’s a strong statement from Rocha, who made reference to the Liberty Seguros team, which ceased operations in 2009. Ex-team manager Américo Silva returned in 2015 to take charge at Efapel, while his rider Nuno Ribeiro (who won the Volta a Portugal in 2009 before testing positive for CERA and losing his title) is manager of the all-conquering W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal team.
Rocha continued: “Against this background there are not the conditions to stay in the sport, not as sports director, nor as president. During a meeting with the FPC last year I warned that if nothing changed I would abandon cycling.”
“This is the time to abandon cycling, with a clear conscience and my head held high.”
For a scene that has been beset by doping scandals in the past it is hardly a ringing endorsement for the current state of play. The FPC does run a biological passport system, which Continental teams elsewhere do not have to abide, though clearly this isn’t enough for Rocha to have confidence in the way the sport is run in the country.
Towards the end of last season there were rumours about six biological passport cases, and Rocha said that the FPC held a meeting with all the teams about it. No riders have been suspended since, however.
The team, which consists of nine riders, didn’t pick up a stage win at the Volta, though star rider Amaro Antunes finished 6th overall. Another major name and winner of the 2013 Volta, Alejandro Marque, is 34 and could retire, while Hernâni Brôco has already indicated that he will be retiring.
W52-FC Porto to turn ProContinental?
While one team folds, another soars, and after W52’s hugely successful Volta there have been rumours that the team could attempt to move up to ProContinental level next season.
The rumours started when rider António Carvalho appealed to the team president to do so during an interview on live television. Directeur sportif Nuno Ribeiro fuelled the speculation, adding, “We took another step this year and perhaps at the end of the season we can go one step further.”
Yesterday Maximino Pereira, a DS since the team’s inception in 2004, said that “it would not be easy” to do so, adding that it would be up to the football club that sponsors the team, FC Porto. Their deal with the team, which started this season, runs for five years and Pereira added that “in a year or two we can think about it.”
The team already has the largest budget in Portugal, at €700,000. Stepping up to ProContinental level would mean adding another two riders to meet the ProContinental minimum of 14 as well as meeting minimum wage requirements, something which could double the investment needed according to Pereira.
Becoming the first Portuguese ProContinental team since Benfica in 2008 would open up a raft of new possibilities for the team, as it would enable them to compete in WorldTour events. After the way they raced the past few weeks it would certainly be interesting to see how they match up with the higher level of opposition on offer at races like the Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and even the Vuelta a España.
Transfers and rumours
Trek-Segafredo have confirmed the signing of the talented 23-year-old Ruben Guerreiro on a two-year contract. Guerreiro has raced for American Continental team Axeon Hagens Berman for the past two years, impressing this year with a 13th overall finish at the Tour of California.
In June he became U23 Portuguese National Champion after a 50km solo ride, while he was also on the podium at U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In 2014 he won the Volta a Portugal do Futuro, and is certainly one to watch next season.
Joni Brandão (fifth in the Volta this year) of Efapel has been linked with several teams, including Lampre, Caja Rural and Androni Giocattoli. He’s a strong climber with a good time trial and won the first edition of the Grande Prémio Cova da Beiras in May, demolishing the field on the summit finish. Earlier in the season he showed himself outside Portugal, coming third at the Volta a Castilla y León in a field that included strong Movistar and Caja Rural squads.
Last season he was runner-up at the Volta a Portugal, and is one of the strongest riders in the country. Considering his young age relative to riders like Veloso, Marque and Rui Sousa (who have been dominating presences at the race), he looks like the best candidate to move up to WorldTour or ProContinental level – a move that Portuguese-based riders rarely seem to make.
Caja Rural’s all-rounder José Gonçalves has also been linked with Rui Costa’s team. Primarily a sprinter, he can climb very well too (13th at the 2014 Volta, 34th at the 2015 Vuelta). This year he won the Tour of Turkey, a race Caja Rural dominated after crosswinds tore the peloton apart on stage three. He has also taken a stage win at the Volta in each of the past two years.
Meanwhile, twins Ivo and Rui Oliveira are names that have been linked with Axeon Hagens Berman. The pair, who ride for U23 team Liberty Seguros-Carglass, have both seen success on the road at National Event level (amateur, with no UCI points) this season.
Rui won the Taça de Portugal one-day race Ovar-Murtosa, while the pair finished third and fourth behind professionals Rafael Reis and Alejandro Mestre at the Volta a Barraida stage race, with Ivo winning a stage there.
Finally, with the disbanding of LA-Antarte it looks like Amaro Antunes will be on the market. This year he finished tenth at the Volta ao Algarve, including a fourth place finish on the Alto do Malhao alongside Fabio Aru and Thibaut Pinot, while he has finished top ten at the Volta for three years running. He could easily slot in at ProContinental or WorldTour level.